Coyote Lessons

This time, the forecasters may have actually gotten something right. It’s snowing outside right now, and is downright chilly. But yesterday morning (and really, all of yesterday) was blissfully autumnal, with dazzling sunshine in the morning, clouds and sunbeams in the afternoon, and a beautiful crisp, cold evening.IMG_5879eIMG_5789eYesterday morning, the aspens caught my eye. They’re in just the right place to catch the morning sunlight from behind, so I see them glowing from the cabin window. They also are back-dropped by the ridge, so the ridge face is in shadow when they are lit from behind, which makes for just a lovely sight to behold.IMG_5725eNow for the fun part of my morning.

On this glorious autumn morning, I took my camera and my dog and figured I’d go on a quick little hike to let Trixie stretch her legs. We have a shock collar (go ahead, report me to PETA), which has been fantastic for working with Trixie, since she isn’t motivated to do anything unless it is fun to her. And believe me, chasing turkeys is a whole lot more fun than coming when called. Amazing how fast dogs learn to associate even just the collar with needing to obey. They learn fast. Very fast.IMG_5890eSo we headed out towards the Hole-in-the-Wall road, through the pasture behind our cabin and into an old creekbed. I was happily snapping pictures and Trixie was happily staying within sight. Then she disappeared. She has this trick mastered. I’m convinced she waits until I’m busy staring at a leaf or a flower or a rock and then she slips out of sight. This isn’t surprising, since she’ll do this for five or ten minutes at a time, but she always reappears so it really isn’t an issue. Our neighbors are pretty far away. But I thought she headed up the hill that bordered the creekbank, so I headed up after her, intending to get down in the draw on the other side where I had seen some beautiful red fall colors from a distance. I got to the top and she was nowhere in sight. I called. She didn’t come. Huh.

All of a sudden from behind me and to my right, from the ravine further down the creekbed, I heard some sort of canine commotion. In retrospect, I’m not entirely sure what I heard, but I know I heard my dog, and the first thing that occurred to me was a rattlesnake encounter. I ran towards the sound, and could hear a yipping and a howling which sure sounded to my very worried brain like my dog angry and in pain. The barking would break off for a second, then resume again, persistent and disturbing.

I got to the end of the little ridge I was on and then was down on Hole-in-the-Wall road itself. I could still hear the barking and hipping and howling, a really weird sound. And then Trixie showed up, a little out of breath but perfectly sound. And she wasn’t the one yipping and howling. Yes, I was a little irritated with my dumb dog and figured she’d gotten in a tussle with another dog and injured it or something. I pulled out my cell phone thinking to call Dad to have him come down with his gun and put the critter out of his misery, but realized I had no cell reception. I had no leash with me, so I briefly explored the idea of trying to locate the animal more specifically, which was still caterwauling, but I abandoned the idea (thankfully, it turns out) since I wasn’t sure how I’d keep Trixie off the critter, whatever it was. I figured to take her home, call Dad, and we’d check it out. I came to the gate, which I think must have been rehung recently, since the wire loop was tight, so I crawled through the fence instead. I’m glad for that as well, since it took less time than struggling to open and close a too-tight wire fence.

Lesson #1. God really does direct the details.

I wasn’t more than a few steps from the gate and something made me look over my shoulder and to my left. Thirty or so feet away was a coyote, yipping and howling and most definitely watching us. I’m bad at estimating distances, but it was close, too close, and it hadn’t been there before, since the yipping had been coming from further away. So it had put itself there. It became apparent that it wasn’t injured. In case you’re not familiar with coyotes, these critters are practically nocturnal and known for being shy in general. It is pretty rare to see them in daylight, particularly at such close quarters, and for them to show interest in a human and a dog is also not normal behavior, at least not to my knowledge. Trixie was my first concern, since I figured she’d want to go investigate, but she really had no interest in the animal. I remember wanting to take a picture, but I didn’t have a zoom lens, there was Trixie to think about, and I think something about the scenario wasn’t sitting right with me.

So we headed home, which was about a quarter mile away.

And whaddya know, the coyote followed us.

Oh, yay.

Lesson #2. Wild animals really are unpredictable. What they normally do really is somewhat irrelevant when it comes down to it. They’re wild.

My initial concern with Trixie going after it turned into a desire for Trixie to go after it, but she was more than happy to leave it alone and even to put me in between herself and the coyote. Stupid dog. There she is, hardly acting concerned, probably knowing that the coyote would get me first and she’d get off without a scratch. Cute, Trixie. Cute. I walked quickly, thinking it would lose interest. It didn’t.

Lesson #3. Trixie is useless.

First it stayed on a little hill above the jeep trail we were on, continually yipping and howling. It would yip or bark a few times and then the barking would roll into a weird howl. I like coyotes at night when I’m inside and they’re outside singing to the moon, but up close and personal I could definitely do without. I turned towards it and hollered at it and tried to look big, but it wasn’t phased a bit. It kept coming towards us, so I figured I’d better keep moving away. I didn’t really like turning my back on it, and maybe I shouldn’t have turned away from it, but I could definitely walk quicker facing the direction I was headed. I kept a close watch over my shoulder, though. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. It was very probably five of the most unnerving minutes of my life, since that’s probably about all it took to get home. Ever since I was a kiddo, I’ve had kind of a built-in fear (now it’s mostly just a caution) when it comes to dogs, so being followed by a wild one was quite the creepy experience. I watched for trees with branches low enough I could climb up if the coyote decided it wasn’t just following us, though it was close enough it could have closed the gap in probably 5 seconds flat, and I picked up a big stick. I felt a little better. Maybe.

The crazy coyote kept following me – now I say “me,” since by this point Trixie had pretty much abandoned me and I was actually calling her trying to keep her a little closer. Stupid dog.

Lesson #4. Apparently I’m not a panicker. This was actually good to realize. Scared, absolutely. Panicked, nope.

To bring a long story that probably should have been shorter to a close, we made it safely home. Once we were close enough that I figured I could get to the house before the coyote got me, I ran, though by this point I had lost sight of it when it went into the corral, still yipping and howling. I have no idea if this coyote was rabid, protecting something, or just likes hanging out with humans and their dogs, but I’ll be taking a gun with me next time I hike up that way. Thinking back, I’m kind of doubting it was rabid, but we’ll sure be keeping an eye out for it. Definitely a weird encounter.

And I don’t even have any pictures to prove it.

Another Rush of Winter

After several days of tantalizingly springlike weather, winter decided it wasn’t moving out just yet. Which is just fine with me. “No travel” advisories were issued, and I hunkered down at home to read, edit pictures, and play in the snow. It was a beautiful, still, gentle snowstorm, with areas in the Hills receiving a foot or more of snow. We received a delightful 7 or 8 inches. And it was a wet snow! Wildflower season is coming up!
IMG_3598eIMG_3554eAs always, Trixie, our snowdog, was positively invigorated and raced around insanely, with a giant goofy grin on her funny little face. I walked up to Grandma’s to get vanilla for snow ice cream, and along the way Trixie found herself a treasure – a deer leg, perfectly intact. She carried it around and gnawed on the nasty thing. She tried to avoid me, since she doesn’t trust us not to take her treasures away, apparently, and finally resorted to burying it.
IMG_3468eIMG_3538eIMG_3590eIMG_3659eOver the last few weeks, the birds have really started to sing again, and the birdfeeder up at Grandma’s house is routinely covered with a host of the feathered things. Little bird footprints mark the snow beneath the feeder. The tiny creatures hardly seem to feel the cold. IMG_3633eIMG_3626eSpring is just around the corner. But for now, I’ll enjoy another rush of winter.

Old Trails

Sometimes it is the old trails that really are the best trails. There’s always something to keep them from seeming redundant. In the case of the Hole-in-the-Wall trail, part of my love of it is pure convenience – I can tumble out the door and be walking along the trail in 5 minutes, remote, away from anybody, in the quiet of the trees. Part of it is nostalgia, memories, and the sheer beauty of this region. The Hole-in-the-Wall road winds along through ravines and low places, often overlooking or crossing an old nameless, boulder-strewn creekbed that eventually joins up with Battle Creek. This has been a favorite trail since I was a kid – because Hole-in-the-Wall has always been a favorite destination. I’ve written about Hole-in-the-Wall a handful of times before, that it is the site of an old mining camp, that the miners diverted Battle Creek straight through a ridge, creating what we now know as Hole-in-the-Wall. Something about this place is comforting to me, and not long goes by before I get the hunger to hike to it, the same familiar trail, the same trees and rocks and sandy, rocky streambeds. Since I am leaving the country at the end of this week for a month, I wanted to hike to Hole-in-the-Wall again. Mom and Dad were the only ones home, and they agreed to tag along. Off we went, with both of the dogs tearing around, having the time of their lives.
IMG_7859eWe were chatting, watching for fossils and flowers and critters, talking to the dogs casually. I had been down in the creekbed looking for fossils and had just come back onto the trail. Opal, in her play and curiosity, headed down the bank, underneath a still-flowering golden currant bush. We called to her and continued walking, and Mom mused, “I wonder if we’ll lose any dogs to snakebite this summer.” It is just something you think about when you live in rattlesnake country, and this is the time of year they start showing up. Talk about a well-timed comment. No sooner had those words left Mom’s lips, than that unmistakable sound burst from underneath the currant bush – a rattlesnake. The sound is one of those you never forget, unless, of course, you’re my Dad and you can’t hear the snake’s rattle, which is a little unnerving. Well, Opal came tearing up the bank around the other side of the currant bush, apparently unhurt (“Good,” I’m thinking. “How in the world would I have broken the news to Sarah?”). Both dogs were immediately captivated by the strange sound, and then immediately got yelled at.  Trixie, the silly thing, actually responded to verbal commands and getting swatted in the face with a ballcap, which surprised me, since I always assumed Trixie’s first rattlesnake would also be her last. In the next few chaotic seconds we got the dogs by the collars and suddenly felt a little calmer.
IMG_7763eIt’s no fun hearing the snake but not being able to see it. Once the dogs were under control, we got a good look at the rattler, and he was a big one, hunkered down beneath the currant bush in a shaded spot. I honestly have no idea how Opal didn’t get bitten, except to say that God didn’t let her get bitten. Where the snake was coiled was right where Opal had jumped. He was thick and angry-looking, and we watched him for a couple of minutes before continuing our hike, with the dogs leashed this time. Once you see one rattlesnake at such close quarters, suddenly you’re convinced there are snakes in every clump of tall grass, under every fallen log, and in every pile of rocks. A little irrational, but that’s just what happens. Just like when you find one tick, suddenly you’re crawling with imaginary ticks.
IMG_7783eIMG_7842eWe made it to Hole-in-the-Wall without meeting anymore snakes, and enjoyed the flora in the meadow  there. Particularly the Missouri pincushion cactus. We found a whole colony, with little families of cacti all growing in groups, and some beautiful solitary ones with picture-perfect blossoms. Shades of yellow to shades of peach, glimmering and gleaming in the sun. I had never seen so many.
IMG_7797eThere was plenty of dame’s rocket, violet woodsorrel, larkspur and larkspur violets, and even a groundplum milkvetch with its cute little fruits. On the way back, we checked under that same golden currant bush for Mr. Rattlesnake. We tossed a few rocks down the bank into the bush to see if we could stir him up a little bit. He had moved on. Smart snake.

Sometimes it really is the old trails that are the best. Because they’re the ones with all the many, many memories. And I’m really glad we still have our dogs.

Snow and Puppies

And the winter continues! Springtime seemed to be well on its way last week and early this week, with record breaking or nearly record breaking temperatures, but winter is not yet gone. It snowed most of the day yesterday, and got heavier into the evening. There was probably a good 8 inches on my truck this morning, and good deep snow all the way up the driveway! Beautiful!IMG_3158IMG_3150Yesterday afternoon we played out in the snow with the dogs for a little while, trying to get Trixie and Opal better acquainted. Trixie is such a puppy-at-heart still, with all the rambunctious energy of a puppy but with the size and strength of an adult dog. She doesn’t have an aggressive bone in her body, but we don’t quite trust her to play nicely with Opal. She just gets so excited and bowls Opal over and tramples on her, until Opal turns into a shrieking frenzy with her tail between her legs. Opal’s reaction to Trixie was a comical blend of cowardice and puppy indignation. She is a bit of a drama queen.
IMG_3130We finally put Trixie on her cable so she would be limited but could still interact with Opal. Opal figured out that she could easily get out of Trixie’s reach, but would come primly to just within Trixie’s reach and allow Trixie to nose her around a little bit before running off. We’re pretty sure Opal is going to be the dominant dog of the pair, if she isn’t already. IMG_3143Snow and puppies. Not a bad deal.

Laura Elizabeth

Simple Joys

Winter is a time of brief, fleeting moments of dazzling beauty, of sights and sounds and silences that come and go with as little permanence as a snowflake, but with the brilliance of a diamond. That overwhelming moment is gone in an instant, leaving only the impression on one’s mind. The enchantment of the first snowfall melts in a few hours. The power of a blizzard wears itself out in a day. The snow cover of two months melts in two days. The leaden, snow-laden skies give way to cloudless blue, and winter breezes turn warm and then cold again. How changeable the season is!
IMG_2859eMom and I were able to thoroughly enjoy the delights of the changeable season today – It was strange to be hiking in short sleeves, with 70-degree temperatures and warm, sweet breezes, while trudging through 10-inch drifts and getting snow in our boots! Trixie, ever the snow puppy, pranced and raced and disappeared, entirely in her element. I would call her, only to look around and find her sprawled in a patch of snow, eating it and rolling in it and burying her face in it. A dog’s simple pleasures.
IMG_2877ePart of the delight of winter is the joy of seeing things in ways we aren’t accustomed to in the rest of the year, particularly in the summer and spring. Those months are full to bursting with new life, and my attention is so drawn from color to color, from the new blossom like stained glass in the sunlight to the bluebirds on the wire overhead to the new fawns with their unmistakable freckles to the brilliant blue of sky and green of grass. But in the winter, you have to look with different eyes. Then you can see the watercolor painting in the snowfall, the etched crystal work in the frosty window or frozen creek, the tapestry of spun gold in the grasses, the white jewels in the snowdrift.
IMG_2885eWe were nearing home, walking through an ancient creekbed, when we caught sight of an old bucket, rusted through and almost flattened, and nearby were a bunch of tin cans and some broken glass. I was thrilled. We had found a junk pile from the homesteading or mining days, of which our place saw a good deal! The whole property is pocketed with old mining pits, remnants of bygone days. We dug around a little in the grass, and found four intact glass jars and bottles, and a white enamel pot, which unfortunately is frozen stiff in the dirt. It looks to be in one piece. As soon as it warms up in the spring and the ground thaws out, I want to dig around and see what else was discarded! Who knows how many times we’ve walked past this junk pile in the summer and never saw it for the tall grass! IMG_2887eSimple joys on a glorious winter day.

Laura Elizabeth

Happy February!

That was a longer break from blogging than I ever intended to take! January was busy, with the addition of another after-work piano student, and there were also a handful of “technical difficulties,” which have just lately been remedied. So now I have my laptop back in working order and can actually blog again. I’ve gotten quite behind in some of our January adventures, and although I generally don’t like to backtrack (enough pictures to deal with going forward!), we’ve had a few fun explorations which I’d really like to share.

So to get back in the swing of things, here is a charming picture of Trixie for your edification and enjoyment. I really do love unattractive pictures of this dog. She is really photogenic that way. And, boy, does she love snow!
IMG_1809eJanuary was a great month, with plenty of wintry weather to satisfy me, and enough nice days to get the jitters out. Excited to see what February holds.

Happy February!

Laura Elizabeth